I Went Bare-chested in South Beach: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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South Miami Beach, Florida, January 2017. This family of four arrived after we did and showed some surprise to see me bare-chested at first, but then they settled very close to our blanket. You can see their things in the background. The little girl kept looking at us, as little ones will do, and in one of the sweetest gestures I’ve ever experienced, the mother brought her daughter over to “say hi.” She climbed in my lap and sat there, quite content for quite awhile. Mom and I chatted and patty-caked with her daughter and we all laughed. It was awesome.

My blog is not a travel diary.  This blog exists to share my experiences going bare-chested around the United States and to examine those experiences for deeper meaning.  I say this because this entry about what I learned from a week in South Beach will at first feel like a negative comment on Trip Advisor.  But bear with me please, because explaining what I learned in South Beach requires context.

For years I’ve been hearing reports about South Beach allowing women to go bare-chested, like this European oasis tucked in the heart of the conservative south.  So with a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures below zero, we decided on short notice to go visit some friends and family in the southern U.S., with a few days in South Beach to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.

It was… not what I expected.

In fact I have to say after five days, I’m not much of a fan of Miami.  Which breaks my heart because I really wanted it to be what the stories said it was.  And it really breaks my heart because there are some absolutely amazing things going on in Miami, like the Wynwood Walls arts district and the critical mass bike rides and the sheer beauty of the Promenade, the water and the city lights.  There were good parts, to be sure.  But what breaks my heart in all of this is that for all of the things in Miami that really speak to me, in the balance I actually spent most of the week feeling quite vulnerable and unsafe and the negatives outweighed the positives.

Those that follow my blog will understand what it means for me to say this… because I don’t scare easily and I really fight to find the positive in my experiences.

But what we experienced was a city (in Miami and Miami Beach) overwhelmed by a culture of alcohol consumption, drugs, clubbing, fights and violence, status and hyper-sexualization.  It felt very frenetic and at times the city felt like that moment at a high school football game when you get that feeling that something is about to go down and you’re about to be stuck right in the middle of it and the two cops sitting at the gate aren’t going to be able to do a thing about it.

I’m not saying this to disrespect Miami or to discourage anyone from going there.  But in order to understand my feelings on going topfree there, one must understand what I was feeling and experiencing.

Case in point… one evening Jeff and I were riding our bikes on the Promenade, which is a very long, beautiful, clean, winding path that runs between the buildings and the beach, sort of like a boardwalk but functioning as a thoroughfare for walkers, cyclists and skaters.  It is well-lit and spotless.  In all my travels I have never experienced its equal.  Truly.

We came to a woman holding her head, staggering around beside a wrecked (and very expensive) bicycle.  Her cable lock was wrapped around her front axle and her rear wheel was at least 50 feet away from the rest of the bicycle.  We tried to talk to her but she wasn’t coherent.  We called 911.  This is in the middle of Art Deco Weekend which is basically a street festival.  Ocean Drive was closed to traffic and vendor booths stretched ten blocks or more.  There were police all over the place.  Still, it took ten minutes for the ambulance to arrive and another five for the first police officer to arrive.  We watched from a distance as the EMS crew talked to her for about 2 minutes from about 15 feet away.  No physical examination at all.  The police officer did the same.  Then they left her there, wrecked bike and all.  When they came to talk to us (as the reporting party) they shrugged and said simply, “Can’t make her go.”  Which of course is completely wrong.  A person with a head injury or who has been drugged or whatever can certainly be taken to the hospital without expressed consent.  It’s the job of EMS and police to make those decisions.  We asked them if we could help her put her bike back together and they all said in unison, no.  The cop said the best thing for her was to get over her drunkenness without a working bicycle.  Nevertheless, after they left we asked her if she wanted help.  She waved us off.  We tried again, she waved us off again.

What more could we do?  From there we rode about four blocks to our accommodations, through ridiculously loud club music pumping out in the street and thousands of partiers milling around…and turned the corner right into a group of about ten well-dressed, thickly-muscled men surrounding a solitary man.  We then witnessed this one man get beaten by the group of men around him.  One guy punched him in the face, he fell to the ground where another man jumped into the air to stomp the back of his head into the pavement, a third man elbowed him in the forehead as he staggered to his feet.

We were watching all this from the middle of an intersection.  In one direction we could see this group beating this man.  In the other direction we could see a group of police and security personnel.  I called out, “There’s a fight!  A man is being beaten over here!”  We were both pointing.  The entire group of police and security sort of craned their heads and went back to their conversations.   The victim of the beating ran right past us clutching his face, bleeding from the nose and eye, followed shortly thereafter by the group of guys walking slowly, carefree, laughing and high-fiving and generally acting puffed up and proud of themselves.  We looked from them to the police and back.  No one did anything.

Another day I had a man approach me to tell me he wanted to have sex with me in front of my husband and piss in my mouth.  Another day we watched a group of about 2000 high schoolers, 14-18 years old, (it was MLK day and school was out) gather on the beach, openly drinking and smoking marijuana, refuse to disperse when a dozen police cars showed up to disperse them.  An hour later they were still there, puking in the sand.  (Later that day there was a shooting at an MLK celebration elsewhere in the city.)

Out of curiosity, while standing there watching all these kids, I approached one of the police officers and said, “Are women allowed to be bare-chested in Miami Beach?”  He laughed and said, “No.  But we tolerate it on the beach.  If a topless woman goes outside what we call the berm, (the dune separating the beach from the Promenade) we’d probably arrest her.”  He said this with a straight face, while watching several hundred underage kids drinking and smoking weed (I don’t have a problem with marijuana, for the record, but still.)

Nevertheless, I did go bare-chested on the beach.  I saw only one other bare-chested woman on the beach the entire week.  Thongs were everywhere though, interestingly. Mothers in their 40’s wore thongs with their teen sons and daughters present.  Young teen girls, 13, 14 years old, wore thongs with their parents and siblings and peers.  We watched a couple of these mothers preening and asking their boys to take pictures of them, posing in provocative ways, making sure they looked just so.  “Don’t make me look fat!  Do I look fat?”  I also had a man set up an enormous telephoto lens and photograph me from about 100 yards away.  Another man sat near me and masturbated.

But I also met the wonderful family from the first photo, which is an absolute highlight among my topfree experiences, and the lovely young woman pictured below who was super excited to see me walking the tide line bare-chested and ask me to take a photo with her.

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South Beach, Miami, Florida. January 2017. This lovely woman approached me while we were walking the tide line and said she thought it was awesome that I was walking bare-chested “even though we can’t do that,” and asked to pose for a picture with us. She even gave me a big hug afterwards, which was super awesome. I told her bare-chestedness was allowed on South Beach and she said she had no idea.

I did make several long bare-chested walks on the beach.  I must have passed 10,000 people a day, no one said a word.  I even walked out past the berm (I mean, come on, how could I not?)  I got a few confused looks, but no police.  One young woman told me this wasn’t the nude beach.  Otherwise no one said anything.  I sat on the cement wall facing Ocean Drive for about 15 minutes, eating lunch.  Nothing.  Looks sometimes, but no police.

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South Beach, Miami, Florida. January 2017. Here I am, outside “the berm,” which is the dune separating the beach from the city. A police officer told me bare-chested women going outside the berm would be arrested. I spent a half hour out there. I wasn’t arrested. Except for one negative comment from a young woman, no one interacted with me at all. Here I am leaving the bathroom inside this public safety building, which I entered exactly as you see me here.  We could see people in the windows of the HQ and they could see me.
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South Beach, Miami, Florida. January 2017. It was just cool enough to wear something on my back, but like the men wearing their shirts open, I let my shirt fall wherever it wanted while I sat on the wall near muscle beach and the volleyball courts eating my lunch. Even though a police officer had told me women couldn’t be bare-chested outside “the berm”, no one interacted with me and no police came. We must have seen two dozen bare-chested men go by in the time I sat on the wall.

So what’s my topfreedom take away from South Beach?

I think it’s to say the obvious… that it’s hard to relax when you don’t feel safe.  And watching the police and EMS basically shrug at the outrageous behavior we were seeing made me feel like they had basically given up trying to stop it.  It felt like they had seen so much of this behavior that they didn’t see it anymore.  It was normalized to their eye.  That was very uncomfortable for me. It felt like no one cared about anyone else, like people come to Miami to forget their humanity…

I didn’t feel this way just when I was bare-chested.  I felt this way all the time, no matter how I was dressed.  With that said I was not sexually assaulted, unless you count the man who kissed my cheek without my permission and told me I tasted “salty” and that he, “mmmmm,” liked that.  I was wearing a shirt at the time, for the record.  I would have collapsed his windpipe if I didn’t think it would start a riot.

All of this mere days before our pussy-groping president’s inauguration.

I’m trying really hard not to feel like we’ve taken ten steps backwards.

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South Beach, Miami, Florida. January 2017.  Taken shortly after a police officer told me bare-chested women could not go past the dune, but bare-chested men could.  More on the topic of public accommodations in a future post.
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25 thoughts on “I Went Bare-chested in South Beach: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

  1. Florida is a very heavily conservative state, with all the conservative hypocrisy that goes with it.

    Lots of nudist resorts, whose owners actively campaign against nude beaches or top free activity. They lost the fight with Haulover beach near Miami. But they don’t want people doing for free, what they charge for profit.

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  2. Wow! So some ran(dumb) (sic) jerk (no pun intended) actually decided it was ok to self-fornicate to you, in front of you? There couldn’t have been a more grossly written porn scene, but this was reality? I’m amazed you didn’t take matters into your own hands and impress upon this “person” that is not something that is considered ok! You’ve got more strength than me!

    I’ve never been to Miami Beach, but I would imagine that it is a very hyper-sexualized environment as you described. The issues with “law enforcement” do not really surprise me anymore. The situation you explained are one of many reasons why the general public has lost trust in those that walk the blue line. They seem to forget that the uniform and the badge doesn’t not make them better than any other human being. It only means that they are supposed to abide by and uphold the law.

    None-the-less, I enjoy reading your postsas well as an avid supporter of you and the FTN (Free The Nipple) movement!

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    1. Yeah, he wrapped himself with a towel and his hand was clearly going up and down. This has happened to me in New Jersey and Ocean City, Maryland also. The guy in Ocean City started crying when I confronted him. He apologized and was clearly ashamed of himself. It was pretty pathetic all the way around. The guy in New Jersey said I misinterpreted what I had seen and said he was just adjusting himself. I didn’t see the Miami guy for awhile. I think he had been there a little while before I saw what he was doing. He actually smiled and waved at us when he left. Like we were cool. The New Jersey guy and Maryland guy were mostly just pathetic and sad figures. But the Miami guy felt more threatening. I think my non-confrontation of him was a combination of things, including that I was tired from Miami as a whole, that I didn’t quite know how long he had been there, and so I felt on a back foot about the interaction. He was gone before I understood what had happened. It makes me want to vomit to be honest. It’s worth noting I suppose that I wasn’t bare-chested at the time this happened. I had been earlier but not during the time this man was masturbating. I was wrapped in a blanket because it was windy and cloudy and I was just trying to enjoy what was left of the day. Jeff and I were kind of off to ourselves too, and when we looked up there he was sitting quite close to us, and his towel was moving up and down. By close I mean maybe ten feet, on a pretty empty beach. So it felt targeted and aggressive.

      At any rate, thank you for your continued support. It helps to know there are men like yourself who do understand. It means a lot. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If there is any state in the continental U. S. that should allow bare-chested (or nude) beaches, it is Florida. Much sunshine, hundreds of miles of great beaches, warm weather. But there is only Haulover Beach and Blind Creek Beach where nudity is permitted by law. Very repressive state. It would benefit greatly by your passionate and sensitive endeavors.

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  4. I’ve never been really interested in visiting Miami Beach (mainly because it just doesn’t feel like my scene), and this post just confirms my reluctance. I’m sorry you had to go through all that, but I’m glad there were some bright spots. If nothing else, I imagine the trip was informative.

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  5. Sadly, not surprised. Well, it is where those Kardashian sisters hang out. I live close to Orlando, which may not be any better.

    Peace ~ Bear

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  6. As always, an interesting and well written blog. I am not surprised by your experiences in this town. It has a reputation as a really fast, hard edged place. But I do have a question: have you found any decrease in civility in the last year? Is the treatment of you as a woman getting worse as a result of the newly permitted political language. Not just in Miami, but elsewhere as well? I fear that the trumpian regime does not bode well for the women in our country.
    Best,
    Peter Le Grand

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Peter: Thanks for the thought provoking question. I have been sitting here thinking about my answer and I think it best to make as a blog post. I feel like this era is polarizing the conversation, more than anything. There are men who are really stepping up and disavowing hate and inequality and it’s beautiful. And then there are men who feel emboldened to speak their ignorance. It’s tumultuous for sure. I haven’t had anyone say anything hateful to me in person, it has all been on social media or in comments sections and such. So in a way it’s just showing the lack of courage in those souls, which we already knew. But the full answer will have to be made with some thought… bear with me for a couple days while I sit with this please… Thank you.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. I have a friend from Glasgow who lived in Miami Beach for a few years and he didn’t feel at home there; he is now living in Cork which he much prefers. Nonetheless I was shocked that you had these bad experiences. I’m glad it wasn’t all negative, though. I’ve never fancied going to Florida.

    It’s a very worrying time with Trump in the White House. I’ve just read about his latest pronouncements on refugees and Muslims. It’s one thing after another. I hope that enough people will be able to stand up to him to prevent some of the worse excesses. Easier said than done.

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    1. I would love to. It would probably have to be in the summer and even that provides a small window of opportunity around other obligations. I am waiting to hear what becomes of my Maryland conversation before I commit to any big efforts elsewhere. But I’m open to the idea for sure. Thank you 🙂

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  8. Hi! I thought this was very nice.Best wishes, Tim Rusling Breastfeeding Means A Lot To Her, So She Did This To Represent The Beauty Of It | | | | | |

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    | | | | Breastfeeding Means A Lot To Her, So She Did This To Represent The Beauty O… Simply breathtaking! | |

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  9. The officer was misguided. There are no Miami Beach or Dade County laws which prohibit public nudity, so it defaults to state law. FL indecent exposure laws (800.3, 800.4) only prohibit exposure of the genitals and only when accompanied by a lewd act or lewd intention. Breasts are not included, and merely laying out nude on the beach is not a violation either. The officer could try to arrest for disorderly conduct (877.03) however the officer would have to find a complainant who would testify that what you did (being topless off the beach) was an outrage of public decency. In general, the officer can’t be a complainant in a disorderly conduct charge. In reality, they would not arrest you but first politely ask you to cover up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. This is important information to have. I do intend to have my normal conversations with Miami Beach when the Maryland situation resolves a bit. I’m reserving as much energy as I can for whatever may come on my home front, but yes, my intention is to discuss details with Miami Beach sometime this year. Any other information or thoughts you would like to share with me or the world, either please post them here or email me at breastsarehealthy@gmail.com. I have forwarded your other question to the lawyers. They are very busy, so I make no guarantees. I do have some information in a blog article about private establishments and descrimination. I will have to also go back and see what I posted when I did that research last year. I seem to remember that private establishments have a bit more leeway, but that some forms of discrimination are disallowed regardless of private or public status. I believe non-profits such as the YMCA do have more protection if they discriminate though… if I remember this correctly.

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  10. I’m sorry you had some bad encounters on your trip to Miami Beach. I live about an hour away so I visit normally 4-5 days per month, and was actually there Monday-Wednesday MLK week. While I’m not going to paint roses on Miami Beach, I think on average it’s normally better than the time you experienced. If you visit again, one of the important things is to set up on the beach between 14th and 21st street or between 1st and 3rd street. These areas tend to have a more like-minded crowd. Also, don’t wander off of Collins or Ocean Drive at night. Depending on the day of the week and my mood, I either set up on 2nd street or 17th street in a tiny g-string, or I set up fully nude on 22nd. I’ve done the latter about a dozen times now and only once has a lifeguard approached and ask me to cover. Interestingly people react more shocked when I’m wearing a g-string (eg., “oh my god” or giggles) than when I’m nude. FWIW, I’m a guy.

    Anyway, here are a couple of legal resources. The first one goes over Florida’s indecent exposure law 800.3 and it even lists a couple of important court cases, the most important of which is the second link which recognizes that simple nudity is not a violation of indecent exposure laws:
    http://www.husseinandwebber.com/crimes/public-order-obstruction/exposure-of-sexual-organs/
    http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/841/1153/1508459/

    As mentioned in my previous post, the law that police will try to apply in cases of simple nudity is FL 877.03 for disorderly conduct. This is a bit more complicated for simple nudity and depends whether there are offended parties willing to testify against you and/or whether police officers can qualify as offended parties. The bottom part of first link and entire second link discuss disorderly conduct as it pertains to nudity in FL.
    https://www.jgcrimlaw.com/disorderly-conduct-intoxication.html
    https://www.orlandocriminaldefenseattorneyblog.com/2013/09/today-garden-of-eden-would-be.html

    To my knowledge there are no local ordinances pertaining to public nudity in Miami Beach or Miami-Dade county (outside of nightclubs), so they default to state code.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s probably worth mentioning Elizabeth Book, up the coast in Daytona Beach. Ten years ago, she had a series of run-ins with local law enforcement and the courts over topfreedom. Though ultimately successful, her story is a difficult one. I forget the details, but I believe a misapplication of state law was involved. If you do not have contact or background info, I can put you in touch.
    Here is my blog post from nine years ago about Liz’s travails.
    http://unicycleintransit.blogspot.com/2011/10/my-hero-liz-book-march-8-2008.html

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    1. Thank you 🙂 sorry I’ve been slow responding this month. I’m still here and I enjoy your contributions. Hope all is well in PGH. Hopefully things break free in the next couple months and we can make some some significant progress again. In the meantime we have the Fort Collins crew rocking out for us.

      Liked by 1 person

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